Africa is wired into Clinton Friedman’s creative brain.
Not, ever, the clichés: the big 5, the vast sunsets. He’s always focused on the intrinsic finer details. The patterns and textures, the shapes. The light and shade which he pulls out of a carefully selected wild banana leaf, a beetle, a thorny branch, a rock, a shell, a bloom, a tree… and transforms into a unique reflection of his environment. A clintonfriedman image.
His first solo photographic exhibition in 2003 - the antique, intricate botanical print revisited, re-imagined, re-born, with an impact that reverberated locally and internationally. This collection of botanical images was a statement of intent that would come to define his aesthetic style: the ability to explore the intersection of seemingly contradictory elements. His work is a celebration of our natural world, expressed through a keenly refined point of view. Informed by the imperfection found in nature and the classical beauty of a modernist aesthetic.
This considered point of view is something that he has honed as an artist/photogrpaher/designer for nearly two decades. His work transcends artifice in favour of an uncompromising simplicity; forgoes trend in favour of timelessness. And in developing the clintonfriedman brand he has brought this distinctive style to bear both in his artistic output and considered range of products. And while the expression may be adaptable, the intention is single-minded – a celebration of life that is bold and graphic, absolute and honest.
The other thing is, you can’t pigeonhole Clinton Friedman. You could try, but the minute you’ve got him neatly classified he bursts out of the box to pursue a new inspiration, explore a new direction, re-invent himself, his work, his art footprint. And often, paradoxically, this involves going back, to his own body of work. To the direction he began to explore decades ago, as a visual arts student in the city of Durban, South Africa.
Clinton is a surfer, a hiker and gravel biker; a gardener and plantsman; a book designer-publisher; a woodworker; a lover of food. Indian Ocean waves, sub-tropical coastal forests and the coastal city of Durban’s gritty, sunny humidity, are his natural habitat and inspiration. He believes he would be unable to make his work if he lived anywhere else. All the subject matter is there, he says, he needs only to polish it.
His focus has always been on capturing “The One Image”. The essence of whatever, (and whoever, in his food story books), he is photographing. The one wild banana leaf. The single strelitzia bloom. Authentic, real. Utterly simple, but intricately detailed, when you look and see what he has seen.
His ability to move these images out of the confining space of an art gallery and make them available to a much wider audience, while preserving their singularity – the clintonfriedman brand signature - has been remarkable. His range has grown from art prints to books, textiles, homeware (including award-winning rugs), fashion garments and accessories. And from an all-local business to include a joint venture with a Swedish company, and exports worldwide. All his products, except for his silk scarves, are, however, made in South Africa, using mostly local materials.
Respecting and sharing the goodness of nature.
Words by Erica Platter, 2019